Disclosure

MA 15+, 85 minutes

4 stars

 

Review by © Jane Freebury

This new Australian indie has its reasons for opening with a vigorous sex scene. The sex life of two of its main characters, while nobody else’s business, is one of the reasons why the couple fall out with their good friends, also married with children.

Things fall apart over the course of a sunny summer afternoon, mostly spent around a kidney-shaped swimming pool screened by lush greenery. It’s all very middle class but the issues that are raised in this terrific drama written and directed by Michael Bentham are not confined to the comfortably well-off.

Differences over how to raise your kids and how to live your lives have ruptured many a friendship between parents, particularly when the going gets complicated. Think The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas’ book and the excellent series made for TV, condensed here to around an hour and a half.

As with The Slap, the question is how would you, as parent or carer, respond to such a situation.

The couple having sex, Emily and Danny Bowman (Matilda Ridgway and Mark Leonard Winter), were alone at home before enjoying a nude swim afterwards. Their 4-year-old daughter is elsewhere, probably with grandma.

Some visitors drop by. Bek and Joel Chalmers (Geraldine Hakewill and Tom Wren) catch them unawares though we sense the visitors have seen it all before. It certainly won’t be anything their security man, vaguely sinister in his wraparound sunglasses, hasn’t witnessed before.

Despite the setting, the issues raised around parenting are not confined to the comfortably well-off

The couples are established friends. Danny is a journalist and Joel a local politician so there are additional dimensions to the relationship between them. Their friendship appears to have stronger foundations than the relationship between Emily and Bek that rather quickly descends into a cat fight.

The exchanges and arguments between all of them have a riveting authenticity.

After the scene with Emily and Danny, intimate encounters that they are in a habit of filming, the cool, uncluttered order at Bek’s place stands in strong contrast. But what is going on in one of the rooms just out-of-frame? It sounds like a child crying out.

Bek is in long shot down the hall, fielding a phone call while doing something in the kitchen. When she comes over to find out, she tells the kids to go outside and play. This crucial sequence is shot with an entirely stationary camera sitting in the hallway.

The children’s voices, heard fleetingly in those few seconds, are possibly a clue to what took place. Natasha has told her parents that she was penetrated by Ethan, the nine-year-old.

A locked camera is frequently used in Disclosure, sitting in on the verbal brawling while the actors provide all the movement in-frame. The cinematographer Mark Carey makes a strong contribution to this excellent drama.

What actually took place between the children when we heard the little girl call out remains a mystery, even harder to guess while the children are kept out-of-frame for most of the time.

Perhaps Bek and Joel’s boys, Ethan and Ben, are mostly unseen so as to discourage us from making any judgements about them. Only four-year-old Natasha makes a brief appearance in final moments before she is shepherded away by her grandma.

Exchanges between the couples are compelling, underpinned by a thoughtful, nuanced script

Emily is insistent that Bek acknowledges what has happened, that Ethan assaulted Natasha. Bek, an abuse survivor, is just as adamant that he didn’t, couldn’t have. Her elder son is a typical boy who just loves playing Minecraft and blowing things up.

Emily and Danny suggest the children see a therapist, but Bek is opposed to this, since what Natasha has told her mother could never have happened. Joel might agree to it on condition it is done anonymously so that any disclosure does not jeopardise his political career.

The furious ongoing interchanges between Emily and Bek, between Joel and Danny and then between all four of them are compelling. It was interesting to read that the four actors are in fact friends.

This is a terrific ensemble piece, underpinned by a thoughtful nuanced script that examines the issues even-handedly. The script has often been a weak spot in Australian cinema but this is strong on every level.

If Disclosure wasn’t quite sure about how to finish, the last scene in the pool makes for a striking promotional poster.

First published in the Canberra Times on 19 September 2021.  Jane’s reviews are also published by Rotten Tomatoes